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Palm Announces Foleo

Wed May 30, 2007 - 2:34 PM EDT - By Dieter Bohn, Marcus Adolfsson

Initial Analysis

Just looking through the reactions on the TreoCentral forums, one can get a good read on the initial reaction to the Foleo. The general feeling is one of disappointment:

Here at TreoCentral, we've been headily watching the webcast, trying to pin down the specs, and most importantly - trying to figure out exactly what the market is for this device. A great little article over at Business2.0 points out that:

The other thing that gets me about the Foleo is that Hawkins and company have long been promising that handheld devices like the Pilot and the Treo, though tethered to a computer today, would soon free us from those unwieldy PCs. Instead of freeing us, with the Foleo, Palm has just delivered yet another machine for us to carry around.

The promise of using your smartphone as your only computer is a compelling idea - but it's an idea that hasn't seen its time quite yet. Palm might have been better served to focus its efforts on making the Treo that "super-smartphone" device rather than jump the gun on releasing the Foleo. In some ways, the Foleo is both ahead of and behind the times - it looks forward to a time when we can truly let go of the laptop yet also fails to feel truly innovative as a standalone product. As Treonaut's Andrew Carton just said to me, "It's either a year too early or 5 years too late." Indeed.

In fact, the Foleo doesn't seem to fit well in any conceivable category. As a standalone device, it's clearly not ready for primetime. It's available applications right now seem as thin as the Foleo itself: A browser, a terminal, and an office suite. The email client may not even operate on its own without being paired or connected to a smartphone. This is surely why Palm is positioning it as a companion device instead of a standalone laptop. As TreoCentral forum luminary Haggar puts it, "I think they invented a new category: Sub-par Notebook."

There are many applications that this device will need before it truly is ready: onboard-calendar, IM, etc. One way of solving this may have been to somehow put a "virtual smartphone" connector in there to leverage the many thousands of applications available for both PalmOS and Windows Mobile. It should be very easy to develop for, which mitigates that problem a bit, but the SDK is not yet available, so we have to take Palm's word on that.

So to put the Foleo in the best light, we should not think of it as standalone device. Yet as an accessory to the Treo (or to another smartphone), it presents just as many difficulties. It is not as truly mobile as a smartphone - it's not pocketable at all. In a very literal sense, it fails Jeff Hawkins' own "wood block test," the famous story of how Hawkins' originally created the Palm Pilot by carrying around a small wooden block in his pocket as a way of visualizing how a PDA should feel and act.

Nevertheless, there are a few attractive features to the Foleo. It is undeniably small (compared to most notebooks) and well-made from a hardware standpoint. The "instant-on" is very neat as is the instant application switching. But is that enough to create a market for this? Every time I try to imagine the ideal customer for this device, like an executive traveling to make a powerpoint presentation, I merely need to give that executive an extra couple hundred dollars to allow her to buy a full-featured small laptop that does everything the Foleo does and more.

If nothing else, the bright spot here is the operating system, which by all accounts seems snappy and good-looking. With any luck, there's a version of it ready to go for smaller screens that can be put on future Treo products in the very near future.

Applications and Screenshots >>

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